2021 has been a fantastic year for YA. Later this week, our full list of favorites will be released, but first, we want to take the time to honor some debuts. Releasing your first novel into the world is terrifying, and especially so in such uncertain times. These authors deserve all the love for their bravery and amazing work! The TYF team has come together to create a list of the best 5 debuts of 2021.
It’s true that authors become better with time, but it’s also true that debuts are often an author’s most inventive, outside-the-box work. It’s when all the ideas are flowing and their creativity is uninhibited. Each book on this list is truly something unique.
5. Down Comes the Night by Allison Shaft
From the setting (an isolated and crumbling hall) to the characters (two sworn enemies who need each other survive) and the tension both inside the hall and out, this was an enormous debut. Eerie, thrilling, and intense, this book has ensured I will read everything Allison Saft writes. — Brianna Robinson
Combining dark academia and thriller elements in a masterfully written novel, Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé draws readers into Ace of Spades from the very first page. In a brilliantly gripping debut, Àbíké-Íyímídé portrays the insidiousness of anti-Blackness, especially in predominantly white spaces.
Chiamaka Adebayo is at the top of her social class—Head Prefect of Niveus Private Academy for three years in a row, part of the popular crowd, Ivy League bound. Classmate Devon Richards is a scholarship student just trying to make it to graduation so he can pursue his musical dreams at Julliard. But their paths collide when both students are announced as senior prefects. Soon after, the two find themselves targets of an omniscient, anonymous figure named Aces—a figure determined to expose their secrets to the entire school. And as Aces’ behavior becomes increasingly alarming, Chiamaka and Devon must team up to stop them before it’s too late. . . — Sabrien Abdelrahman
Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher is a devastatingly beautiful examination of grief, hope, and friendship. A gorgeous debut, Schumacher does not hold back her punches emotionally but also takes care to make sure her readers get reprieve from the heaviness of the story, providing the comfort of a library where magical whales fly through the shelves. Amelia Unabridged is an honest and impactful glance into the complexity of tragedy and what follows. — Gisselle Lopez
Come follow Victoria as she goes vampire hunting in New Orleans on a quest for immortality to save her dying father in Vampires, Hearts, and Other Dead Things, Margie Fuston’s debut novel. Fuston seamlessly blends the paranormal and contemporary genre with her skillful writing of magical realism.
A reason why this story stood out to me is that the main character Victoria is unlikeable. She is selfish and manipulative, as people can often become when jaded by the grief of losing a loved one. Her struggle is real and raw, and yes often ugly. But, it was refreshing to see an author care more about sharing a powerful story about finding hope even amidst terrible grief than creating a generic self-insert character for us to imagine ourselves making out with vampires. — Meagan Stanley
1. Sing Me Forgotten by Jessica Olsen
Retellings are a dime a dozen these days, so it’s rare to find one that’s truly reinventing the original. This YA genderbends The Phantom of the Opera and turns it into a fantasy. Isda is unique—when people sing, she can manipulate their memories. In this world, people like her are banned, sentenced to death as soon as they’re born. She was rescued and now lives below the Opera house, where she is not allowed contact with any human being besides her father figure. This debut has everything: stunning prose, the sweetest soft boy, an adorable romance, and a terrifying twist villain. I fell in love with this book and it has not let me go ever since. — Abby Petree